Editorial comment – Make RHD your business

The "Heart to Heart" Rheumatic Fever Awareness campaign will run this month. Picture: SUPPLIED

The fact that 24 rheumatic heart disease (RHD) valve surgeries were conducted by a visiting team of surgeons at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital in Suva will be met with mixed reactions.

The surgeries were conducted by more than 80 specialists brought in by the Friends of Fiji Heart Foundation (FOFHF) over a six-day period.

While there will no doubt be joy over the fact that people are being appropriately treated, there will also be questions over how prevalent RHD is here.

As part of our reports today, lead cardiac surgeon from the Auckland City Hospital and founder for the foundation Dr Parma Nand said the surgeries included replacing valves with mechanical, metal and some tissue valves.

Patients were from all over Fiji and Tuesday was the final day for surgeries.

He said RHD was a condition present mostly between the ages of five to 15 years of age.

Fiji, he said, was one of the places where the incidence of RHD was very high compared with other Pacific islands nations.

He reckons this is probably because of the awareness created about RHD, which he reckons is higher and Fiji has a bigger population compared with the rest of the region.

People living with RHD have spoken out about how their lives have changed with awareness.

They talk about the importance of family support, and the need for awareness campaigns.

They talk about living life to the brim in the face of their diagnosis.

So what is rheumatic heart disease?

The RHD Global Status Report 2015-17 lists it as a preventable disease that affects children and young people.

It says while it has practically been eliminated in wealthy countries, RHD is still common in Africa, Asia, and the Latin American and Pacific regions.

Thirty-two million people, it says, around the world suffer from the condition which kills 275,000 people a year and is the most common acquired heart disease among children and young people in developing countries.

While RHD can affect a person’s life expectancy, the World Heart Federation says it can be prevented and controlled.

It says rheumatic fever is caused by a preceding group A streptococcal (strep) infection. And treating strep throat with antibiotics can prevent rheumatic fever.

Regular antibiotics (usually monthly injections), it says, can prevent patients with rheumatic fever from contracting further strep infections and causing progression of valve damage. As parents and guardians, we should be vigilant and proactive.

This month is set aside for RHD. We should understand the disease, appreciate the need to be aware of symptoms and be proactive. We must refer loved ones with sore throats to the doctor as soon as possible.

Let’s make RHD our business.

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